I might have mentioned my occasional trouble with getting round to doing things. This might be a record, even for me. It’s taken me 23 years or so to get round to seeing The Waterboys. I’ve been a fan since I heard early releases like A Girl Called Johnny and December. For those not familiar, the Waterboys is a band fronted by Mike Scott and consists of whoever happens to be playing with him at the time. One previous member was Karl Wallinger, who went on to create World Party, responsible for some more excellent music. The Waterboys’ first three albums were in a style Mike Scott called “The Big Music”: everything including the kitchen sink thrown in, lots of saxophone, and nicely over the top. It was in this period that the band’s biggest hit was released. If you’ve only heard one Waterboys song, it’s probably The Whole of the Moon, which is as good an example as there is of what Mike Scott is about. Passionate, intense and quite, quite bonkers. After that, Mike surprised just about everyone by moving to a folk-rock stlye. Teaming up with fiddle player Steve Wickham, a revised Waterboys line-up recorded the Fisherman’s Blues album. While in a different style, it still had the Waterboys trademark of passionate performance. After a bit more folkiness, Mike switched by to a more rockist style with Dream Harder, then released a couple of albums under his own name, then reformed the Waterboys for some more albums.
So here we are, 23 years on, and the Waterboys are touring. Steve Wickham is back on fiddle, together with the latest drummer, bass player and keyboards player. But this is Mike Scott’s band, and to be honest, it’s all about Mike. Friday night, and Hall One at the Sage Gateshead is the venue.
After an opening set from Thea Gilmore, Mike and the band came on at around 8:30. They rattled through a good selection of old and newer material including Glastonbury Song, a deliciously over the top version of The Pan Within, and in Red Army Blues, Steve’s electric fiddle did a remarkably good imitation of the sax on the original recording. Other highlights were My Dark Side, Peace of Iona and Long Way to the Light. Any band with as much history as the Waterboys has so many songs to choose from that it’s not possible to include everyone’s favourites, but Mike did a fair old job of it.
Now we all know that the “thank you, goodnight” bit is a tradition, and that encores are a standard part of the package, but it makes it really obvious when the band leaves the stage before performing their two best-known and probably best-loved songs. Of course, some bands get a bit sniffy about having to carry on playing their one big hit, and some even avoid playing them. Their choice, of course, but while I always want to hear people’s new music, it’s nice to keep in touch with the past, to hear the songs that made you love the band in the first place.
So, it was a Very Good Thing that the encore included a glorious rendition of Fisherman’s Blues. Steve’s fiddle playing has never sounded better, and Mike sounded like he was enjoying himself. The encore also included a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Independence Day, which was a surprise for me. It was also the only song where Mike wasn’t either playing the guitar or electric piano.
The encore finished at about 10:15. Now there were signs in the foyer about a strict 10:15 curfew, and it looked like some people believed that and seemed to be heading for the doors. I noticed that the house lights were still off, so stayed put. Everyone else got the point and more clapping, stamping, shouting, whistling and the like followed. Yes, it appears that Mike doesn’t know the meaning of “strict”.
Sure enough, the band came back on. Mike sat at the electric piano, teased us a bit by playing a few random bits and pieces before launching into the inevitable crowd-pleasing The Whole of the Moon. As good as it’s ever been, and still quite mad. In a good way, of course.
The Karma to Burn tour is nearly over now, but the accompanying CD gives a reasonable sample of the way the band sounds these days. Recommended.
 He also enjoyed a bit of banter with the audience, responding to a shout of “come on” with “I’ll play my song when I’m ready” (or words to that effect, I wasn’t taking notes… )
 I once said that Mike didn’t know the meaning of restraint, and that I was in favour of hiding the dictionary to make sure he never found out